Originally published in the Canberra Weekly in 19 May 2022.
This review can also be found on the Canberra Weekly website.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 3 May 2022)
Length: 361 pages
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Prepare to read about one of the more unique experiences of World War II with an excellent and moving historical drama, Esther’s Children by fantastic Australian author Caroline Beecham.
Inspired by the extraordinary life of Esther Simpson, Esther’s Children is a powerful novel of love and courage.
Austria, 1936: Esther ‘Tess’ Simpson works for a British organisation that rescues academics from the cruel Fascist and anti-Semitic regimes taking hold in Europe. On a dangerous trip to Vienna to help bring aid to Europe’s threatened Jewish scholars, Esther meets Harry Singer, a young Jewish academic and musician.
Tess works tirelessly to rescue at-risk academics and scientists from across Europe, trying to find positions for them in Britain and America. In 1938, she secures employment for Harry at Imperial College, London, their love affair intensifying as the world heads into war, yet they are separated once again as Britain moves to intern European refugees.
With Harry detained on the Isle of Man while still waiting for news of his parents, Esther and the Society plead with the government for the interned scientists’ release. When Harry is eventually liberated, his future with Esther is by no means secure as he faces an impossible choice.
Confronting the horrific dangers of World War Two with remarkable integrity and bravery, Esther Simpson is revealed as an exceptional heroine.
This was a rather great read from Caroline Beecham, who once again plumbs the highs and lows of history’s greatest struggle to produce an excellent read. Beecham, who has written several other intriguing historical dramas, including 2020’s Finding Eadie, is a talented Australian author whose novels usually feature an intriguing hook around World War II. Her latest novel, Esther’s Children, is probably my favourite one of her books so far, and tells another powerful and intense story about love, survival, and the evils committed during war time.
In Esther’s Children, Beecham has written a particularly clever and compelling story that follows the life of real historical figure Esther Simpson. Adding in some fictional and dramatic details, Esther’s Children turns into a multi-year tale that showcases Esther’s work as she attempts to rescue academics from Nazi controlled countries in the lead-up to the war and beyond. In particular, it follows her interactions with fictional character/love interest Harry Singer, as she attempts to get him out of Vienna and into England. This forms the basis for an intense and heartbreaking story as these two ill-fated lovers are forced to ] contend with the obstacles placed before them, including the encroaching war, the machinations of the Nazis, the bureaucracy surrounding asylum seekers coming to England, and subsequent prejudice faced even after Harry has reached safety. Told using a split perspective between Esther and Harry, you get an intense inside look at both characters as they attempt to overcome the odds keeping them apart, while also experiencing some of the horrors brought on by the Nazis and others, with the reader hit by constant frustration at everything that happens to these characters. This entire story moves at a brisk and intense pace, and you will be swiftly drawn into the clever and touching narrative that is driven by these two characters’ experiences. The way everything turns out is both poignant and heartbreaking, and I felt that this was a great and captivating read.
Esther’s Children’s dramatic story is greatly enhanced by the captivating and fascinating historical details that Beecham has set it around. The author has clearly done a ton of research to pull her story together, and I was very impressed with some of the unique elements it contains. Not only do you have some fantastic, if very disturbing, depictions of the Nazi movement taking over Austria, but the story goes out of its way to highlight the work done to get certain (primarily Jewish) academics out of Europe. Focusing on the work of Esther Simpson, a unique figure from history who I was pleased to learn a lot about in this novel, you see the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning attempt to help these academics emigrate and find them jobs in England’s educational and government settings. This novel really focuses on the impact that Esther had for many famous academics (her children, many of whom appear in the plot) and I found it fascinating to learn about her work and the people she helped.
However, I personally thought that the most fascinating historical aspect of this book was the subsequent imprisonment of these scholars and scientists by the English once the war broke out. I must admit that I was unaware of just how widespread and unfair the interment of German nationals in England was during the war, and I was very surprised to find out that so many refugees and fleeing Jews were also incarcerated in places like the Isle of Man, often alongside Nazi sympathisers. Shown directly through the eyes of one of her protagonists, Beecham paints a pretty grim picture of the terrible life that these incarcerated people would have experienced, and it was pretty heartbreaking to see all these people who had already lost everything get locked up by the country they were trying to help. I really appreciated the powerful emotional weight that the author loaded into all the historical scenes, and they really work to expand on the dramatic and romance elements of the entire novel. I cannot wait to see what unique historical element Beecham will explore in her future novels, but I am sure it will be fascinating.
Overall, Esther’s Children is a particularly powerful and captivating read that really highlights Caroline Beecham’s great skill as a historical drama author. Expertly combining intriguing and dark elements of history with a dramatic tale of love, loss and regret, Esther’s Children becomes harder and harder to put down as the story progresses and you are drawn into the character driven narrative. An excellent historical drama that is really worth checking out.
WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?
So, let’s get to it.
Esther’s Children by Caroline Beecham (Trade Paperback)
I just started this excellent historical drama by Australian author Caroline Beecham. Set around World War II, Esther’s Children looks at a brave women who helps to rescue Jewish academics from Europe. This is already proving to be an powerful read and I am curious to see where this tragic story ends up.
World of Warcraft: Sylvanas by Christie Golden (Audiobook)
I am still getting through this exceptional World of Warcraft audiobook by Christie Golden. I love the brilliant story that Golden has set up around one of the franchise’s most compelling characters and I am really getting caught up in this fantastic and powerful narrative. I will hopefully finish Sylvanas off in the next day or so and I look forward to seeing how Golden will wrap everything up.
Nine Lives by Peter Swanson (Trade Paperback)
One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold (Trade Paperback)
Wake by Shelley Burr
That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.
I have been having an absolutely fantastic couple of week for books, as I have been lucky enough to receive several incredible and amazing new novels from some of my local publishers. These novels include some truly awesome new releases, several of which I have been eagerly awaiting for some time. I am extremely keen to check out all of the books below (indeed, I have already gotten through a couple), and they should make for some amazing reads.
I was extremely happy to get my copy of the latest Usagi Yojimbo volume, Tengu War!. The Usagi Yojimbo series by Stan Sakai is one of my favourite comic series and I have been eagerly waiting for this comic for some time (it was one of my most anticipated reads of 2022). I actually read Tengu War! the day I received it and it was pretty damn amazing. I am hoping to get the review for it up soon and needless to say it will get a five-star rating from me.
Another recent acquisition that I have been looking forward to for a while was the third book in Robert Fabbri’s Alexander’s Legacy series, An Empty Throne. Following on from the previous books in the series, To the Strongest and The Three Paradises, An Empty Throne will continue to follow the chaos that emerged in the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s death as his former advisors, relatives and friends, fought for his empire. I have been really enjoying this series over the last few years and I cannot wait to see what wacky events from history are contained in this next book.
I was very happy to receive this very fun book from Australian author Benjamin Stevenson, Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone. Stevenson, who previously wrote the murder mystery novels Greenlight and Either Side of Midnight, has come up with something pretty spectacular here with Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone, which I have already finished. This awesome novel, which brilliantly mixes comedy, mystery and multiple homages to classic whodunits, places a troubled Australian family in the midst of several suspicious deaths at a remote location, and forces them to solve it. Utterly hilarious and extremely clever, I had an absolute blast from this book and I will be putting up an extremely positive review for it soon.
I was also extremely fortunate to receive a copy of the English translation of Three Assassins by Japanese author Kotaro Isaka, which I am extremely excited to read. I had an amazing time reading Isaka’s previous novel, Bullet Train, last year and Three Assassins sounds like it is in a similar vein to it, setting someone against three outrageous assassins. Sure to be filled with laughs, odd characters and brutal action, I cannot wait to check this book out and will probably dive into next.
I just received an electronic advanced proof of the intriguing upcoming historical drama, Esther’s Children by Caroline Beecham. Set around World War II, this novel follows a young woman who works at an organisation that tried to rescue Jewish academics and scholars from Europe. Sure to be powerful, romantic and moving, I am curious to check this book out, especially after enjoyed Beecham’s last novel, Finding Eadie. I was very happy to see that they have used my Canberra Weekly review for Finding Eadie inside this new book, and I hope to read this latest novel soon.
I was naturally extremely happy to receive the latest Rivers of London novel by Ben Aaronovitch, Amongst our Weapons. The latest book in one of the best urban fantasy series out there, Amongst our Weapons is one of the most anticipated fantasy novels of 2022 and I am extremely keen to read it. I had a great time with Aaronovitch’s previous two novels, Lies Sleeping and False Value, and Amongst our Weapons has a great plot to it involving someone using magic to rob the London Silver Vaults. I already know this is going to be a top read and I look forward to seeing how it all comes together.
Superstar crime fiction author, James Patterson, returns with another collaboration, this time with acclaimed writer J. D. Barker, for their new book Death of the Black Widow. This cool new is a gripping and intriguing crime fiction read that sets a rookie police officer chasing after a mysterious, alluring and very dangerous woman. I really like the sound of this awesome book and I am hoping to read it in the next few weeks.
One of the more intriguing novels I recently received was Nobody But Us by new author Laure Van Rensburg. This dark and compelling thriller sees a mismatched couple take an unusual trip to the remote countryside, with both lying about their intentions for being there. I am very taken by this mysterious and awesome novel, and I look forward to seeing what sort of devious tale Van Rensburg has come up with.
Another fantastic historical drama I was lucky enough to receive is The Diamond Eye by the extremely talented Kate Quinn. The Diamond Eye follows a young woman from Kiev who becomes a notorious and deadly sniper during the Nazi invasion in World War II. I love the sound of this awesome book, especially as it is particularly topical at the moment, and I am extremely confident that Quinn has come up with a compelling and powerful tale here.
I was also extremely fortunate to receive a copy of Ordinary Monsters by J. M. Miro, an intriguing and comprehensive young adult fantasy novel set in 19th century London and Edinburgh. This fascinating novel will follow individuals with unique abilities who have been gathered together in a mysterious institute. I have been hearing some good things about this book and it sounds like this could be the start of the next big young adult series. As such, I should probably clear some room in my reading schedule soon in order to get through this fantastic novel.
I also recently had a successful visit to a second-hand book shop and picked up a couple of older books from author’s I have been enjoying recently. The first of these is the classic Mr Mercedes by legendary author Stephen King. I had an amazing time reading King’s 2021 novels, Later and Billy Summers, and I thought it was time I expand my King knowledge. Mr Mercedes seemed liked a great place to start, especially as one of the protagonists from it is apparently set to appear in some of King’s upcoming books, and I cannot wait to see how this gritty thriller comes together.
The other second-hand book I got was The Late Show by Michael Connelly, which serves as the very first Renee Ballard book. I have had a great time reading all of Connelly’s other books featuring Ballard, including Dark Sacred Night, The Night Fire, and The Dark Hours, so I thought it would be worth my time going back and seeing the first book she appeared in. The Late Show has a really intriguing sounding mystery to it and I can’t wait to see the earlier adventure of this tenacious protagonist. I will hopefully feature The Late Show in a Throwback Thursday article soon, I just need to find sometime to read this book in between all the fun new releases.
Well that’s the end of this latest Book Haul post. As you can see I have quite a bit of reading to do at the moment thanks to all these awesome books that have come in. Let me know which of the above you are most interested in and make sure to check back in a few weeks to see my reviews of them.